Stephanie Zerwas, the clinical director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, was trying to find a restaurant in Orlando, Fla., last weekend, so she put the address into Google Maps for directions.
She was baffled to see a new feature: The iPhone app told her that walking instead of driving would burn 70 calories. While it was perhaps meant as an incentive to walk, those with eating disorders might instead fixate on the number, a dangerous mind-set that counselors try to minimize, she said.
“We’ve gotten into this habit of thinking about our bodies and the foods we take in and how much activity we do as this mathematical equation, and it’s really not,” she said. “The more we have technology that promotes that view, the more people who may develop eating disorders might be triggered into that pathway.”
On Monday night, Google pulled the feature, which it said was an experiment on its iOS app. The decision followed a wave of attention on social media; while some of the responses saw Google’s feature as promoting exercise, there were several complaints that it was dangerous or insulting.
Some users were especially upset that the app used mini cupcakes to put the burned calories into perspective, framing food as a reward for exercise, or exercise as a prerequisite for food. (One mini cupcake, it said, was worth a little less than 125 calories, but no information was provided about how that calculation was made.)
Calorie counting has long been a contentious topic at the nexus of nutrition, exercise and eating disorders. In New York, among other cities, some restaurants are required to post calorie numbers on their menus and displays, an effort the Trump administration is trying to overturn. The Affordable Care Act required some national restaurants to do the same, though the Food and Drug Administration repeatedly delayed the deadline.
Source: NY Times
Why It’s Hot: Interesting example of brands adjusting strategy based on social media feedback. What was probably considered a useful, helpful feature by developers was clearly not well received by customers.